Soul Making in Modern India

For years, we Indians have lived life in contained few places. Inside homes and religious places like temples, churches, in organic markets and trade mandis most of life were lived. It was within these spaces that we socially interacted and also resided. We ate, slept, lived, fought and earned our livelihoods here. These places were organically constructed and seamlessly became a part of everyday life in India.

The chowks, our quandrangular open spaces were characteristic to urban Indian life disperising and converging people and ways. Communities and the human desire to intermingle has lend itself to place making in India. However place making has come a long way in India. From the organic mohallas to British era’s railway stations, mall roads in hill stations, maidans and parks to modern day aiports and malls the new market places. We have jouneyed in aesthetics, comfort and acceptance. The British era introduced us to creating urban signatures through architecture, urban planning and enabling moblity and transportation. Before them the Mughals and other rulers built glorious forts, palaces, lakes and parks but for self-consumption. The average Indian was only privy to it in large state celebrations.

During the Queen’s reign, the rail network was laid all across the country. Each city, town, district, village was the proud owner of the railway station. Often these stations became new hubs of activity, pouring people in and out of the city. They became gateways to experience a city or a town, often providing a distinct visual character too. Cities like Mumbai also saw unique architecture and place making through the design of important buildings and spaces in the city. Be it the Flora Fountain, the magnificent Victoria Terminus (now the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus) or even the Gateway of India.

In the last decade, we have urbanised significantly, found new cities to call home and worked in environments far away from what our ascribed identities could afford to imagine. We have been building everything, new cities, towns, malls/ marketplaces, airports, highways, skywalks, sealinks, gated communities, IT parks, footpaths and new neighbourhoods and suburbia. The pace of change has been baffling. Today we fight third world challenges of providing electricity to every household and also woes of traffic congestion,air pollution like the first world countries. We aspire to have harmonious communal living and public spaces that faciliate a seamlessly intermingled life.

Public spaces are an important part of society. They live through times, enable a view of the past in the present, keep history alive and more importantly faciliate democracy and communal life and living. For modern India too, public space making remains a relevant conversation. For it is in public spaces that we acquire aspirations and life goals.

In the last ten years, Indians have experienced modernity through our public spaces. While we still need help navigating digital signage systems, climbing on escalators, coping with stark, clean and uncluttered modern spaces and accepting the cold glass and steel look we have nonethesless coped well. But very often its not only modernity that we are seeking from our public spaces and our cities we also yearn to find meaning. Infrastructure is one of the key essential constituents of modernity but we expect more from it. We hope to build memories not just selfie moments. We wish to transact in smart ways but not in ways devoid of belonging. Most importantly we need it to tell stories of today’s times and showcase what makes us unique and distinct.

Our cities are getting smarter and digital highways will characterize our infrastructure uniquely. With virtuality creating an extension of space which is omnipresent, the role of physical spaces must be pondered on. Perhaps in the next age of public-space making in India, we will need to think of ways in which we can induce soul, into our public spaces, ways in which we can facilitate collective social behaviours, find ways in which we can give our cityscapes a recognizable characteristic that makes it unique than other global cities. With architecture that is culturally dynamic, common spaces that allow for vivid imaginations and places with which citizens want to have relationships with.

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